TOWN hall chiefs were yesterday accused of “political correctness gone stark-raving mad” for forcing pool users to swim in the gloom to protect Muslim women’s modesty.
The bizarre council diktat is the latest example of bureaucrats taking an extreme decision to avoid upsetting a minority group.
Residents are outraged after council chiefs ordered the windows of their glass-panelled swimming pool to be blacked out after complaints were received from Muslim groups.
That has meant all swimmers at Darlaston Leisure Centre in Walsall, West Midlands, have been forced to swim in a darkened, gloomy pool.
The centre won plaudits from architects for its “ultra-modern” design when it opened to the public 10 years ago.
But now council staff have covered ground-level windows with opaque film at a cost of £1,400 following complaints, mainly from Muslims concerned that they might be spotted in their swimwear.
Regular users of the pool are furious that the tinted windows, installed a fortnight ago, have plunged the pool into gloom – and all in the name of political correctness.
Pauline Poole, a 65-year-old retired legal secretary from Walsall who uses the 28 metre by 12 metre pool several times a week, said: “This has infuriated so many of us because we weren’t consulted.
“I returned to swimming after a cataracts operation and was looking forward to watching the lovely trees outside while swimming.
“But it reminded me of just how it felt before my operation. It was like looking at a horrible cloudy view. I’m so angry.
“If it was done for a minority, it’s totally wrong that we didn’t have a chance to vote on it, or even be notified that a change was going to take place.” Jean Merchant, from Wolverhampton, said:
“Regular swimmers should boycott the pool for as long as the film is in place.
“It seems they are not bothered about what we find offensive, as long as the Muslim community is kept happy.”
Retired building surveyor John Ewart, 63, from Walsall, said: “I cannot believe this council has agreed to something so loony. The whole thing smacks of political correctness gone stark raving mad.
“A lot of people who swim are elderly or retired and they now have to swim in the gloom.”
Lee Rue, 29, said: “None of the regulars were asked how they felt. If the council have consulted anyone, they’ve obviously listened only to what the Muslim community wants and ignored the rest of us.”
Darlaston Leisure Centre pool, opened in November 2000, is described as a “state-of-the-art” facility. Walsall Council’s website praises its “ultra-modern design” and says the programme has “activities for all sections of the community”.
A worker at the pool, who did not want to be named, said: “Several customers complained it made the pool dark and dingy but we didn’t have a choice.”
Leisure chief Councillor Anthony Harris said: “I’m pleased we’ve been able to make these modifications because not only does it show we’re listening to the views and concerns of our users but also because it enhances the privacy of swimmers.
“An opaque sticker was put around the pool at a level conducive to a sensitive level of modesty. It has been raised by the Muslim community, but it was an all-embracing decision to cover the windows.
“People can still look outside, and as far as I know there was a consultation process.\
“The building has glass from top to bottom and that is quite unusual for a leisure centre.
You wouldn’t put a bathroom on the ground floor of your house without some kind of frosted window, and that is what we have done.” Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This involved an outlay of taxpayers’ money and it makes a big difference to the experience of using the pool.”
Dennis Anson, Labour member of Walsall Council, said: “I can understand the complaint from Muslim swimmers but I’m sure the council could have installed blinds or curtains or something less permanent.”
A spokeswoman for Walsall Council said the complaints had come mostly from the Muslim community but non-Muslim women had also objected.
The Walsall debacle comes six months after the Daily Express revealed how Hull City Council was accused of running Muslim women-only swimming sessions in secret – to the fury of regular baths users.